Enjoyable conclusion to Chichester Chamber Concerts 2018-2019 - review

Notos Piano Quartet
Notos Piano Quartet

REVIEW by Peter Andrews

The 2018-2019 season of Chichester Chamber Concerts came to a happy conclusion on Thursday last [28th March] with a concert by the highly regarded Notos Piano Quartet. This German multi-award winning ensemble has earned a reputation as one of the world’s finest young groups and this concert did nothing to throw doubt on that assessment. These charismatic players combined youthful energy with mature interpretation and formidable technique. They also brought to Chichester a varied and imaginative programme.

They started with Mozart – the Piano Quartet no. 2 in E flat K493. Written in 1786 this piece was revolutionary in being written with the newly introduced forte-piano in mind rather than the harpsichord (although it was marketed as being suitable for both instruments for commercial reasons). It was also a departure in that it shared the thematic material evenly between the players rather than deploying the strings as accompaniment to the more dominant piano, as had hitherto been the custom. It is a piece of great charm and refinement and received an assured and polished performance in the hands of the Notos Quartet.

As a complete contrast, the Notos next played the Divertissement for Piano Quartet by Jean Françaix dating from 1933. Françaix was a child prodigy who became a virtuoso pianist and a highly prolific composer of over 200 works. He claimed in later life (he died in September 1997) to be “constantly composing”, starting a new piece immediately after completing the last. Shunning the avant-garde and serialism that marked musical development during his life time, his style remained gentle and witty and never far removed from the cafés of 1920’s Paris. The Divertissiment contains hints of Poulenc from whom Françaix took inspiration. The Notos Quartet gave it a bright, cheerful and refreshing performance with fine playing from all four performers, Sindri Lederer (violin). Andrea Burger (viola), Philip Graham (cello) and Antonia Köster (piano), who clearly enjoyed the experience.

The second half of the concert consisted of a single work, the magnificent Piano Quartet in E flat Op. 47 by Robert Schumann, one of the most popular works for this combination of instruments. It was composed in 1842 shortly after the equally grand Quintet for Piano, Two Violins, Viola and Cello in E flat major Op. 44 with the gifted pianist Clara Wieck, Schumann’s wife, in mind but is dedicated to Count Mathieu Wielhorsky, a patron of Schumann’s and an amateur cellist who, with Clara, played in the work’s first performance. The Notos approached the piece with an immediate, full-bloodied attack relishing the strong, rich harmonies. The deeply romantic song-like third movement was most impressive with Philip Graham’s cello prominent over the meandering piano accompaniment from Antonio Köster. In this performance, Graham avoided the famous scordatura, whereby the bottom C string on the cello is retuned to B flat for the movement’s final pedal note, by playing it an octave higher than written. This was a thoroughly engaging performance and a well measured and thrilling rondo brought the work and the concert to a most satisfactory conclusion.

The 2019-2020 Season of Chichester Chamber Concerts begins on Thursday 3rd October with a concert by another fine chamber ensemble, the Esmé Quartet.

Peter Andrews